Cyclists hit the streets during Big Bike Weekend to benefit The Villages Regional Hospital.
When upwards of 500 bicyclists take off on a ride this month in The Villages, their hearts will really be in it.
With every push of the pedal, every spin of the wheel, and every mile traveled, they will raise money for The Villages Regional Hospital Auxiliary Foundation.
The cyclists’ trails wind through Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties for anywhere from 10 to 100 miles during the Bicycle Challenge, part of the third annual Hearts for Our Hospital Big Bike Weekend, Nov. 10-12. Individual cyclists and teams raise money by getting pledges for the miles they travel or flat-rate donations. Registration fees and corporate sponsorships also go toward the cause.
The efforts of the healthy bodies make for healthier patients at the hospital. Proceeds, which last year totaled more than $42,000, go toward purchasing hospital equipment and funding scholarship programs for hospital team members and area high school students, says Shelly Scarbrough, senior development associate for the foundation.
The Bicycle Challenge on Saturday is one of three spokes to the weekend, which also includes Friday’s free Cycling Expo and Health Fair, and a free bicycle club ride on Sunday.
Big Bike Weekend lives up to its name in The Villages.
“It is the biggest cycling event by far,” race director Pat Gillis says. “It’s the 600-pound gorilla.”
So, Pat and his wife, Lori, the event coordinator, can be excused for going a little bananas while running it. They’re both members of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club, the event advisor to the foundation, but their responsibilities keep them from riding in the Bicycle Challenge.
The challenge, which attracted 313 riders in 2016, is getting bigger each year. A 100-mile route, or “century ride,” was added last year, and a 10-mile route for less experienced riders has been added this year. The century ride brought in about 50 additional cyclists, and Cycling Across America, or CAAM, added the Bicycle Challenge to its tour schedule. CAAM is an event organizer known for high-quality rides throughout Florida and the Southeast.
The Villages event is appealing to cyclists because of the routes and scenery, Pat says.
“We take them out into the countryside onto rural roads, and this is a great place to do cycling,” he says. “The tri-county area has gorgeous rural roads to cycle on.”
Meanwhile, Lori has organized more post-ride activities, along with coordinating volunteers and communications, and designing the event jersey.
“It’s exciting. It’s a challenge to reach a goal and to improve it every year and make it more fun for everybody,” she says.
The event has been a surprising success for the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club, President John Komoroske says. The hospital foundation approached the club three years ago to help stage the event. The first challenge in 2015 raised around $30,000.
“When this started, we were hoping to get enough money for a dedication in the urgent care waiting room,” John says. “We thought that would cost $75,000 and would take a number of years. We got it in two years.”
Now the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club has committed to raise an additional $250,000 from as many Bicycle Challenges as it takes.
The club doesn’t do it alone, of course. Cyclists come from all over, and teams in various categories compete for trophies for most money raised. The Sumter Landing Bicycle Club faces competition from The Village Bicycle Club and the Panthers Tandem Bike Club of Florida. As the event takes place on Veterans Day weekend, an appropriate new category this year is the armed forces. Both veterans and active service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard will battle for a trophy.
About 75 to 100 Sumter Landing club members volunteer at the expo/fair and the ride.
“It’s a good collaboration between the bicycle clubs themselves and the foundation volunteers,” Shelly says.
At the Cycling Expo, visitors can see the newest bicycles and accessories from the local Village Cycles shop as well as national manufacturers Giant and Specialized, and check out the booths of Villages bicycle clubs and bicycle travel companies.
The Health Fair features health-related vendors and free medical information, including screenings for blood pressure, hearing, skin damage, and body mass index. Visitors can also give blood at the OneBlood Big Red Bus.
More than 30 national and local health-care providers and businesses are sponsoring Big Bike Weekend, which is funded in part by a tourist development tax grant from Sumter County commissioners and the county’s Tourist Development Council.
The sponsors take good care of the cyclists and volunteers. KR Management, a senior care provider, is putting on a pre-ride breakfast, and HarborChase assisted-living communities is taking care of lunch. The post-ride rewards include a World of Beer Biergarten and DeConna Ice Cream, because what better way to shake off a day of exercise than to indulge in beer and ice cream.
As if Saturday’s Bicycle Challenge is not challenging enough, another new addition to the weekend is the free club ride Sunday morning. It’s an endurance event of 2½ to 3 hours, but the cyclists helping the hospital foundation are accustomed to going the extra mile.
Big Bike Weekend Schedule
Friday, Nov. 10: Cycling Expo and Health Fair, 10am-2pm, La Hacienda Recreation Center, 1200 Avenida Central, The Villages. The OneBlood Big Red Bus will be onsite until 5pm for blood donations.
Saturday, Nov. 11: Bicycle Challenge, 8am for first ride group, starting and ending at La Hacienda Recreation Center. Cyclists may register online until 5pm Friday, Nov. 10, at raceroster.com/events/2017/12766/
hearts-for-our-hospital-big-bike-weekend or register the day of the race at the ride start location.
The five start times and routes include: 8am for 100 and 64 miles; 8:15am for 32 and 17 miles; and 8:30am for 10 miles. The entry fee for distances of 100, 64, 32, and 17 miles is $60 up until race day and $70 on race day. The fee for 10 miles is $25; $35 on race day. Each registrant gets a free event moisture-wicking T-shirt. A Hearts for Our Hospital jersey also is available for $60.
The after-ride festivities include a World of Beer Biergarten (one free beer), lunch with ice cream, music, and door prizes.
Sunday, Nov. 12: Free club ride of 2½ to 3 hours for Bicycle Challenge participants, 8am, starting at La Hacienda Recreation Center and ending at Spanish Springs Town Square. All ride levels. To register or for more information on all events, go to h4hbikeweekend.com.